Recently convicted drug trafficker Tapia profiting from illegal bar on government-owned property
Published: October 4, 2013
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ST. THOMAS - The drinks were flowing and the food was sizzling Thursday afternoon at a Contant bar operated by convicted felon Roberto Tapia on government-owned land.
Tapia pleaded guilty Sept. 24 to drug trafficking and racketeering crimes he committed while acting as the Director of Enforcement for the Department of Planning and Natural Resources. He was arrested after federal agents caught him with 7.72 kilograms of cocaine May 17. Court documents show that federal law enforcement agents believe Tapia was a ringleader in a smuggling ring on St. Thomas and that he sought a bribe for a DPNR contract and sold DPNR equipment for personal gain.
Whether the bar or any money it may have generated for Tapia will be forfeited to the United States per the plea agreement, which requires Tapia to "identify every asset" under his control, remains to be seen.
The bar's continued operation appears to be because of a failure of multiple government agencies to correct the layers of illegality documented in an enforcement action file at DPNR.
The illegalities stretch back to 2006 and include potential conflict of interest arising from the lease; failure to pay rent on the lease; unpermitted construction at the bar; a delinquent and improperly vetted loan from the Economic Development Commission; and an apparent lack of a business license from the Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs.
Various government officials told The Daily News they are waiting on each other to take actions toward shutting down the illegally run establishment.
Attorney General Vincent Frazer characterized the matter as a "landlord/tenant dispute" - not a criminal matter - and said that he is not sure whether attorneys from his office had filed a notice of eviction yet in V.I. Superior Court.
In an email dated June 18, Tapia's former boss, DPNR Commissioner Alicia Barnes, urged Gov. John deJongh Jr., Frazer and Property and Procurement Commissioner Lynn Millin-Maduro to demolish the bar, referred to as Ine's Place.
"I am once again requesting that we proceed with the demolition of Ine's Place, especially in light of the arrest of Roberto Tapia and the ongoing federal investigation in that regard," the email states. "A demolition permit application should be filed with DPNR by Property and Procurement to demolish the structure. Further, contact will be made with WAPA for termination of the electrical services."
In two nearly identical notices of termination of a lease agreement written to Tapia by Millin-Maduro - one issued April 30, 2012, and one issued June 28, 2013 - she cites the bar's non-compliance with zoning, building codes and its being a non-mobile establishment as the basis for the termination. The notice dated June 2013 also states that Tapia's back rent totals $10,702 plus late fees.
Millin-Maduro said she had not filed a demolition permit with DPNR because she is awaiting a notice of eviction to be served through the Superior Court.
In June, Barnes also contacted Hugo Hodge Jr., executive director of the V.I. Water and Power Authority, to ask that the power be cut off to Ine's Place.
As late as mid-September, Economic Development Commission Director Percival Clouden said Tapia had communicated to his office that he intends to resume payments on the $25,000 loan he obtained in 2006 for improvements to the bar.
At the time, Clouden said Tapia's pending court proceedings might present an obstacle to repayment, which had been "sporadic" since 2006. Clouden also said the loan was given without some documentation from Tapia, including a copy of a business license from the DLCA and some tax records.
DLCA Commissioner Wayne Biggs Jr. said Thursday that his staff still is trying to ascertain whether any such license exists and that there might have been some confusion as to whether the bar was owned and operated by Tapia or another person.
Innes Hill, who identified herself to The Daily News as the bar's manager, said Ine's Place has been operating for 12 years. Regarding the bar's business license, Hill said: "His mother is working on that. Somebody already came by about it."
Tapia's mother, Helen Tapia, also is the person who stepped forward to act as his third-party custodian when he was arraigned.
Hodge said that he is "following the law" by not following Barnes' directive to shut off the power to Ine's Place and that he was awaiting further information from Property and Procurement.
"As long as they are paying the bills, there is no way they can be disconnected," Hodge said.
Barnes was hesitant to comment about why Tapia's flouting of multiple notices of violations issued by DPNR beginning in December 2010 did not cause her to move for his termination.
"Concerns were expressed," she said.
- Contact Amanda Norris at 714-9104 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.